We are witnessing an outstanding season from a Nationals prospect unable to legally buy beer. If you immediately think this is yet another article about Juan Soto, I promise you it is not. Although he might deserve it, the 19-year-old Soto started the year at Single-A Hagerstown and is now batting cleanup in the major league. Yet somehow overlooked in the Soto tsunami, the Nationals have another prospect breaking out in their system in Carter Kieboom.
Washington’s first-round pick in 2016 out of high school, the 20-year-old got off to a sluggish start to 2018, batting only .198/.308/.347 in April for high Single-A Potomac. April’s weather was dreadful and the Carolina League in which Potomac competes is a notoriously difficult hitters’ league, so few were concerned with his mediocre start.
Once the calendar turned to May, so did the switch to Kieboom’s offense, as he hit .391/.458/.576 in May and has followed that up with a .327/.410/.635 in June. Sure, his 50 strikeouts in 245 at-bats are slightly more than ideal, but Kieboom finished the first half batting .297/.384/.502 with 12 home runs and 27 extra-base hits. Kieboom also had a three-hit night, including a long home run, on Tuesday during the Carolina League All-Star Game. His video game numbers obviously caught the front office’s attention, as Kieboom was rewarded with a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg on Thursday.
In addition, scouts have perhaps been equally as impressed with Kieboom’s progress both defensively and in the weight room. Last season, the majority felt like Kieboom would need to switch from shortstop to either second base or third base. This opinion has quieted and now evaluators are thinking he might remain at shortstop long-term. Furthermore, Kieboom has put in the work off the field, firming up his physique, getting more muscular and improving his lateral quickness.
The Nationals have been aggressive promoting hitting prospects in recent years, often using Double-A as the final stop on their journey to the majors. This was the development path used for Anthony Rendon and, more recently, Victor Robles and Soto. Kieboom now finds himself in a similar situation, as his bat will dictate how quickly he reaches the major leagues. Kieboom has transformed himself from a late first-round pick to one of the top infield prospects in baseball in only two years, an impressive achievement.
This leaves general manager Mike Rizzo with a difficult decision to make this summer. Even after this week’s blockbuster trade for Kelvin Herrera, the Nationals are presumably still looking to acquire a catcher, along with another pitcher for the stretch run. Teams will obviously covet Kieboom in trade discussions, but Washington must be projecting him as the heir apparent to Daniel Murphy at second base or Rendon at the hot corner.
The front office must be feeling immense pressure after watching the Capitals’ championship parade last week to replicate that in NatsTown. Will the Nationals use Kieboom as a trade chip to improve their chances in 2018, or decide he is too valuable to move? Either way, the overlooked emergence of Kieboom is the best magic trick I have seen since David Blaine made his career himself disappear.
Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.